“We are literally living in an age when black and white TV would make so much sense,” says Lewis Black.
The comedian is coming to The Vet’s in Providence this Saturday with his “Off the Rails” tour. He’s got his finger on the pulse of the day’s news. “This county has really moved so quickly,” he says to go back to 1956.
“And in Europe, Putin says no, I can take it back to the 30s.”
Black is well-known for his rants. Streams of consciousness that are a window to “where I come from on stuff.”
Black is happy to be back on the road but acknowledges that when he started back in September, “it was way too much, way too fast. It was like a bad cartoon, where the guy gets in the ring, ready to take that first punch, and ends up punching himself in the face.”
His first performances in about two years happened at Hilarities in Cleveland. “I did six shows in four nights. I was only supposed to do 15 minutes each night, I thought I’ll take it easy. I was so excited, I ended up doing 80 minutes. Six long shows and my body was not even close to being ready. It’s like someone said we need you to come out here to run a marathon, sure, you haven’t run in 600 days, but you’ll be good.”
Black’s last performance was two days prior to the shutdown. Of course, he’s talking about the effects of the pandemic. “A lot of people experienced the renaissance of the human spirit. I was not one of them. Gee, they never thought they’d be working in stained glass. I won’t watch the morning shows any longer. They’re torture to watch. You can actually create a new species with two casts that never mated before? Shut the (eff) up!”
One difficulty Black faces: how do you satirize something that’s already satiric? “How do you even come close to, what do they call it, ‘legitimate political discourse?’ How do you top that as a punchline to a bad joke? Gee, boy, Facebook is more interested in profits than anything else? I’m shocked. All you have to do is go on stage and say it.”
We talk a bit about the fact that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a comedian who played the country’s president on TV before becoming president. It’s a storyline remarkably similar to “Man of the Year,” the 2006 film in which Black co-starred. Robin Williams played a character very similar to John Stewart who ends up being elected president thanks to an error in a computer algorithm.
“That movie was way ahead of its time,” says Black. “Look at what it’s saying. In retrospect, it’s a movie worth watching.” It’s a drama, and Black says the film’s marketing was flawed. “They made it look like a goofy Robin Williams movie, and it wasn’t.”
We talk about subjects that may be taboo. “I didn’t want to talk about gun violence. Relax, no one’s coming to take your guns. You think I’m coming to your house?”
He remembers tweeting about learning there’s one gun for every American. “I didn’t have one,” he tweeted, “so somebody took mine.” Some of the responses to his tweet were “insane. People told me that I’m not taking their gun. You’re missing the joke.”
But then, he found an article about an 81-year-old man who shot himself and his wife during a gun safety discussion in a Tennessee church. “That gives me the springboard to talk about it. I don’t need to come up with it, nothing beats real, nothing comes close to it.”
Black asks his audiences to relax. “Look, we haven’t been out together in a long time, so you have to know the ground rules. You come to see me, and you don’t know who I am, and you get upset, it’s your fault. It’s not like I’m appearing at Bobo’s Comedy Club. I’m in a theater.”
He’s looking forward to returning to Providence. “I’ve been there five or six times, and outside of the incredible urban renewal, nothing else has happened because I was there.”
Black sums up his performance and appearance. “Here’s the deal. Nothing I’m going to say tonight will have any impact on your universe.”
So, lighten up and enjoy the show.
[Lewis Black appears in “Off the Rails” at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, March 12. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401.421.ARTS or visit www.thevetsri.com.]